Chanuka

Ricotta Tart with Lemon and Coconut

fullsizeoutput_8674.jpeg

Cheesecake? Wonderful! 

But how about cheese pie? Tart?

For Shavuot.

Or anytime at all!

This recipe started with a nut streusel top but I needed something nut-free, so substituted shredded coconut. You can change that to chopped almonds if you prefer.

You need to start ahead on this one so that the cheese can drain and become dry-ish. This gives the filling a tender texture and also helps assure the crust won't get too soggy too soon.

Ricotta Tart

For the filling:

  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon or orange peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

For the crust:

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon or orange peel
  • 1/4 pound butter, melted

To make the filling:

Place the ricotta cheese in a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, to drain as much liquid as possible from the cheese. Pace the drained cheese in a food processor bowl. Add the eggs, honey, citrus peel and cinnamon and process until the ingredients are well blended and smooth. Set aside while you make the crust.

To make the crust:

Place the flour in a bowl. Mix in the sugar, salt and citrus peel. Pour in the melted butter and mix the ingredients to form a soft dough. Press the dough onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Prick the dough with the tines of a fork. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the dough with aluminum foil and weight it down with pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and weights, turn the oven heat down to 375 degrees and bake the crust for another 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Spoon the filling in baked crust and sprinkle the coconut over top. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crispy looking and the center is set. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings

Sweet Potato "fries"

fullsizeoutput_8691.jpeg

I know that for many people, including my family, Hanukkah is a fried-food-fest. That once-a-year indulgence we look forward to with glee. Whether it's the fried latkes, the doughnuts, the chicken -- whatever -- it's the fried part that counts for us. That crunch! That crust! That crisp!

Oy.

So, sure, let's enjoy that first round of classic holiday favorites.

But Hanukkah is an 8-day holiday! So -- how about what I like to call "sort-of-fried" for the remaining days (and anytime after).

Mock fried.

That is, food cooked at high heat that gets crispy, liked fried food, but without the calories, the mess, the fuss and the smell. 

I realize it is NOT THE SAME AS FRIED FOOD.

I get it.

But it is still really tasty, and with the proper crispiness.

Like these sweet potato "fries."

Try these the next time you want something resembles fried without the frying.

Sweet Potato Fries

  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or to taste (or use cayenne pepper)

Preheat the oven to 425F degrees. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into julienne strips about 1/4-inch wide. Place the strips in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Pour the olive oil over the strips and toss to coat them all. Sprinkle the sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper on top. Bake, tossing once or twice, for about 15 minutes, or until the strips are browned and crispy.

Makes 4-6 servings.

 

Orange and Vanilla Scented Cheese Stuffed Dates

fullsizeoutput_86f1.jpeg

Sometimes I think life is a bunch of holidays with not much in between, except for the entire month of January.

I suppose that's a good thing, because holidays are happy and celebratory. Also, there's the food. Except for Yom Kippur, every holiday has food. And even when it comes to Yom Kippur, there's the break-the-fast when it's all over and the break-the-fast is all about food. 

As far as holidays go, at this point of the year, we've just finished Thanksgiving. Next up? Hanukkah!

Hanukkah is a really delicious holiday. Lots of fried stuff like latkes and doughnuts.

It's also a dairy holiday because of the story of Judith. You can read all about it here

So for me, in honor of Judith, in addition to the usual potato latkes and doughnuts, I have served cheese latkes and potato latkes with a yogurt based sauce laced with lemongrassPotato Galette with Caramelized Onions and Cheese has been on my Hanukkah menu and also Almond Crusted Winter Squash and Noodle Kugel

Desserts? I could go with Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie (you can use regular lemons) or maybe Baked Goat Cheese with Honey Sauce and Cranberries. Maybe even cheesecake. Or some fabulous cheesecake cookies!

And also these stuffed dates! Easy to make, not too sweet (no added sugar), these little morsels are perfect for the holiday. If you don't want to use almonds for garnish, crushed, toasted coconut will do nicely.

 

ORANGE-VANILLA SCENTED CHEESE STUFFED DATES

  • 12 medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese (4 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons crushed toasted almonds (or pistachios or crushed, toasted coconut)

Cut the dates through the center, but not all the way through to the bottom. Remove the pit and spread the date slightly to form a hollow for filling. Mix the cram cheese, yogurt, orange peel and vanilla extract in a small bowl until the mixture is smooth and soft. Fill the dates with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the nuts.

Makes 12 

Spinach Gnocchi for Break-the-Fast

We never have a traditional smoked fish break-the-fast because one of my daughters is allergic to fish. Instead, we have a vegetarian-dairy feast. My friend Susan brings her famous, not-to-be-missed kugel. Another friend brings dessert, although I usually also make rugelach

The rest is up to me. For years I've served Mujadarah, either made with brown rice or bulgur wheat. Other usuals are Spinach Pie, a tomato salad of some sort, egg salad and hummus.

But this year I'm not doing the Spinach Pie.

No particular reason other than it's time for a change.

But not a huge change.

I decided to make Spinach Gnocchi. It's already in the freezer, ready-to-bake.

Spinach Gnocchi

  • 2 10-ounce packages thawed, frozen chopped spinach
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Butter a baking dish. Squeeze the spinach to extract as much liquid as possible. Place the olive oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. Add the spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes. Spoon the spinach mixture into a large bowl and let cool slightly. Add the ricotta cheese and mix thoroughly. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs, the 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly to blend the ingredients. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. With floured hands, shape the spinach mixture into balls about 1-1/2-inches in diameter. Gently drop the balls into the water. Keep the water at a simmer. Cook for 6-7 minutes or until the balls rise to the top and look fluffy. Lift the balls with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to dry slightly. Place the balls in the buttered baking dish. Drizzle them with melted butter and the 1/2-cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 18 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly crisped.

Makes 24

 

Latkes of a Different Kind

Hanukkah wouldn't be right without latkes. And, while classic potato latkes are my favorite and I once made 200 of them for my sister-in-law and brother's annual holiday party, I also like to cook up different varieties.

In addition to fried foods, dairy is also an iconic food for Hanukkah.

So -- dairy latke!

This one is made with cornmeal and cheddar cheese. Good for breakfast, lunch or as a side dish at a vegetarian meal. Perfect accompaniment to sunnyside eggs, for dipping into runny yolks.

Also, versatile. Add chives, scallions, corn kernels, chili peppers. Whatever.

Also -- make them ahead and rewarm. 

 

Cornmeal-Cheddar Latkes

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-1/3 cups milk, approximately
  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 ounces shredded cheddar cheese 
  • butter for frying
  • optional: 1 small chopped jalapeno or serrano pepper; 1 cup corn kernels; 2 tablespoon chopped chives

Melt the butter and set it aside to cool. In a bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, eggs and cooled melted butter. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture, stirring gently. Fold in the cheese. If the mixture seems too thick, stir in more milk.

Heat about 1 tablespoon butter in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, drop 1/4 cup of the batter per pancake and cook for 2-3 minutes per side or until golden brown.

Makes about 24

 

Grandma's Blintzes

_DSC9289.jpg
_DSC9381.jpg

I feel blessed that my children and grandchildren come to stay over at my house in Connecticut for holidays and birthdays and occasionally just to hang out. It reminds me of when I was a kid and visited my grandma -- almost every weekend -- along with practically everyone else in my mother's family (aunts, uncles and cousins).

That was back in the day before children had so many other activities. Sure, there were brownies and cub scouts, but back then I never heard of things like soccer or gymnastics. Art classes happened during school hours. The only cooking classes for children took place in your own kitchen if you were lucky to have a Mom like mine who let you patchky around.

Weekends were strictly for family activities.

I'm not saying one way of life is better than another. One size does not fit all, as they say. And maybe today's kids are better educated or are more well-rounded than we were.

But I have wonderful memories of that life. 

It was good. I got to play with my cousin Leslie every weekend. She and her family lived with our grandma.

I also got to eat some of my grandma's wonderful food. 

I hope that in years to come my grandchildren will feel happy when they recall their visits to Ed and me. And have good memories of some of the favorite foods I cooked when they came.

Like Macaroni and Cheese. Apple Pie. Matzo Brei.

My grandma also made matzo brei and macaroni and cheese. But one of her signature dishes was blintzes.

She filled the blintzes with cheese, the classic, but, as I learned later, most people made the cheese filling sweet, seasoned with vanilla and/or cinnamon. My grandma's cheese-blintz filling was lemony, with just a hint of sugar.

Also, because there were so many of us, she had no time to fry them a couple at a time and still have everyone eat at the same time. So she placed the blintzes, seam-side down, on a baking sheet, topped each with a little dab of butter, and baked them until they were golden brown.

Me? I still love blintzes lemony and baked. And -- surprise to me! -- so do my grandchildren.

Her recipe is below, but the filling instructions give you the option to make the more popular vanilla version (and also how to fry them). Don't worry if the wrappers don't fry into perfect circles -- you're going to roll them and if they're a little off, no one will ever know.

Grandma Rachelle Hoffman’s Blintzes

Wrapper:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk, approximately
  • 2 large eggs
  • softened butter for frying

Filling:

  • 1 pound farmer’s cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel, optional
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

To make the wrapper, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and stir to blend the ingredients. Add the milk and eggs and whisk until the batter is smooth and uniform (you may do this in a food processor). Add more milk if the batter seems too thick (it should be the consistency of heavy cream). Set aside for 30 minutes. Place a small amount of the softened butter in a crepe or omelet pan and place the pan over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and the foam is beginning to separate, add enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan (for an 8-inch pan it will be 1/4-cup), shaking the pan quickly to spread the batter evenly. Cook for a minute or so or until the bottom is lightly browned. Turn the wrapper over and cook briefly. Remove the wrapper and proceed with the remaining batter, separating the cooked wrappers with aluminum foil or waxed paper.

To make the filling, place the cheese, egg, sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the lemon peel OR vanilla extract and mix in thoroughly.

To fill each wrapper: use the first fried side as the inside of the blintz. Use about 2 tablespoons of filling for an 8-inch wrapper and place the filling in the center of the wrapper. Fold the bottom side up, over the filling. Fold the left side, then the right side over the filling, then roll up to enclose the filling. Fry the blintzes seam side down first over medium heat (using the same method as for frying the wrappers – let the butter melt and become foamy). Or, you can bake the filled blintzes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the blintzes in a single layer on a jelly roll pan, top each with a tiny piece of butter. Bake for about 10 minutes.

Makes 8 8-inch blintzes

Savory Herb and Cheese Sufganiyot

_DSC0036.jpg

I've always been more of an hors d'oeuvre person than a dessert person. So, given the choice (if I HAD to choose) of franks-in-blankets or potato puffs versus chocolate cake, it would definitely be the franks-and-potatoes for me.

This does not mean I am immune to dessert and during Hanukkah I do love to get my fill of sufganiyot, especially the tiny fried choux puffs that I make with a bit of sugar and lemon. And also a jelly doughnut or two. Or three.

But, I am who I am, so this year I decided to make savory sufganiyot.

Can that really be a thing?

Anyway, it went over bigtime at my house. I had thought about serving them with a bourbon before dinner, but it got late and we were hungry so we actually ate these as a side dish with some roasted salmon and broccoli. 

Either way, for cocktails or with dinner.

We polished these off.

 

Herb and Cheese SufganIYot

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mixed herbs, or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • vegetable oil for frying

Place the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and salt all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is well blended and begins to come away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Mix in the herbs and cheese. 

Heat about 1-1/2-inches of vegetable oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to make a tiny piece of dough sizzle, drop mounded teaspoons-worth of dough into the pan, cooking about 8 at a time. Move the puffs around using a wooden spoon, for about a minute or until the bottoms are golden brown. Turn the puffs over. Cook another half minute or until golden brown. Lift the puffs out with a large frying basket or other tool onto paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the puffs. When all the puffs have been fried, refry all of them for about one to 1-1/2 minutes, moving them around in the pan with a wooden spoon (alternately, you can fry the puffs, lift them out for 15-20 seconds and put them back in the pan for the second fry, then repeat with the rest).

 Makes about 60

 

 

Roasted Pears with Orange Maple Sauce

Somehow, even after after a heavy meal, most of us still find room for dessert. Me included! But I don't like feeling overstuffed, so I prefer something lighter, made with fruit, rather than a hunk of cake or pie.

I made these roasted pears recently -- the recipe is very easy and only has a few ingredients. It's a perfect finale to a Hanukkah meal, which tends to include lots of rich dairy foods and fried everything. You can make the pears a day ahead and stuff the hollows with whipped cream or ice cream, just before serving.

For us, the big Hanukkah meal is always a roasted goose with all the trimmings -- braised red cabbage, potato latkes -- the works! Roasted pears for dessert, for sure! Plain. Maybe with sorbet.

Roasted Pears with Orange-Maple Sauce

  • 3 large ripe Bartlett pears
  • half a lemon
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ice cream, whipped cream or sorbet

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the pears, cut them in half and remove the inner core and seeds. Rub the surface with the cut half of a lemon. Place the pear halves in a baking dish just large enough to hold them so they don’t tip over. Mix the juice, maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla extract and spoon over the pears. Roast for about 25-30 minutes, basting occasionally with the pan juices, or until the pears are tender. Remove the pears and let them cool. Serve the pears with the pan juices and ice cream, whipped cream or sorbet if desired. (If the pan juices seem too thin, pour the liquid into a small saucepan, cook on high heat for a minute or so or until syrupy. Set aside to cool.)

Makes 6 servings

 

Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? Or lemon pie, lemon bars, lemon vinaigrette. And so on.

That’s exactly what I did, years and years ago, when one of Ed’s business associates moved to California and mentioned the lemon trees in his backyard. He had so many lemons that he wanted to send us a box.

They were the strangest looking lemons I’d ever seen. Thin-skinned and vaguely orange. They also tasted sweeter than the standard, in fact, they tasted almost as if it were some kind of lemon mixed with an orange.

This was in the pre-Google search era. No one I knew had ever heard of a Meyer lemon.

In fact, Meyer lemons, which seem so familiar now, popped into popularity only about a decade ago. And when they started appearing in supermarkets during the winter I realized what I had in that box all those years before.

I had used those lemons in all the recipes I cooked that called for lemon juice and peel. It worked, though not perfectly. Meyer lemons are sweeter and they don’t have the tang and pop of a standard lemon, so they’re not ideal for recipes that need a lemony acidity.

On the other hand, because the flesh is sweeter than the more usual lemon, Meyer lemons are perfect for cookies and quick breads. I also slice them and use it as a bed for roasted fish. I make Meyer Lemon Chutney.

And this fabulous, rich, sweet and mildly tangy Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie. 

Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie

  • 1 fully baked pie crust or Graham Cracker crust
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Meyer lemon peel
  • 1 cup plain Greek style yogurt
  • whipped cream

Bake the crust or set it aside. Or, make a graham cracker crust (or use a store bought crust).* Combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, cold water and Meyer lemon juice in a saucepan. Add the eggs and blend them in thoroughly using a whisk. Gradually add the boiling water and whisk the ingredients until the mixture is smooth. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for one minute. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and Meyer lemon peel. Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes. Add the yogurt and whisk it in. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and chill in the refrigerator until cold, about 4 hours. Top with whipped cream and serve.

Makes one 9-inch pie

*to make a graham cracker crust: preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine 1-1/2 cups crushed graham crackers and 5 tablespoons melted butter. Mix until all the crumbs are coated. Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Potato Latkes

What do you do when you have finished preparing potato latkes for a Hanukkah party and you’re sitting in your family room watching TV and your husband comes in with a handful of the latkes you just made and says “I’m taking a down payment on our Hanukkah party on Saturday night.”

And you’ve cleaned up the kitchen and everything and you thought you were done with latkes and the entire house smells from fried so you had to make a kitchen bouquet (1/4 cloves, 3 broken cinnamon sticks, tablespoon or so cardamom pods, orange peel, water) so that anyone who comes to the house even the next day (like the UPS delivery man or the guy who is coming to repair the oven) isn’t blasted with stale fried smell?

Why, you get up the next day and make more latkes. Otherwise there won’t be enough. Because I know what happens when people see potato latkes. You can’t eat just one.

And so I did.

These:

Potato Latkes

  • 4 large peeled baking potatoes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 tablespoons potato starch
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • vegetable oil for frying

 

Shred the potatoes in a food processor. Squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible (I put portions of the shreds in a kitchen towel and squeeze until they are practically dry). Place the shreds in a bowl. Immediately mix the eggs in (this helps keep the potatoes from browning). Add the potato starch, salt, pepper and baking powder. Heat about 1/4” vegetable oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat. Shape latkes by hand, squeezing liquid out if there is any, and place them in the hot oil, leaving space between each one so that they brown well and become crispy (if they are too close they will “steam” and become soggy). Press down on the latkes to keep them evenly shaped. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side or until the pancakes are golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Makes 12-15